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It feels like there are two parallel universes when it comes to the controversies surrounding this World Cup.
For the advocates, the activists, the European teams and especially the seven captains who intended to wear the One Love armband, this is an LGBT and human rights issue they wish to continue speaking out on.
For hosts Qatar and the viewers who have come or are looking around the Arab world, which has a large Muslim majority, it’s about religion, culture, the norms of the region and, most importantly, respect they don’t get.
Tension seems to be the tournament’s constant undercurrent so far, and it’s all happening here on the world’s biggest stages.
On Wednesday, Germany Players covered their mouths During the team photo ahead of the World Cup opener against Japan, manager Hansi Flick said it was “to get the message across that Fifa is silencing the teams”.
However, the reaction to Germany’s stance has provoked strong and almost unanimous negative reactions in the Arab world.
The Germany-Japan hashtag was trending in Arabic for the German team for completely the wrong reasons. Many are calling their “mouth covering” stance in support of LGBT rights “offensive” and “provocative”, with some calling on Fifa to put more pressure on players.
“You come to us, respect our religion, our culture, our norms and our laws – otherwise you can put your hands wherever you want,” it said in a tweet.
Another said: “Hunger, poverty, water scarcity and many other global problems and you have chosen only this as your cause.”
A Facebook post targeting the Arab and Muslim fans at the World Cup in Qatar said: “If they [German team] stand by this cause, be proud of your religion and stand by it.”
The German gesture is the latest in a row between football governing body Fifa and several European teams who had planned for their captains to wear a OneLove armband during matches to promote diversity and inclusion until Fifa threatened to do so Give them yellow cards.
This step was described as “extreme blackmail” by DFB media director Steffen Simon.
Germany – which faces no disciplinary action for the “mouth covering” gesture – said it was “not about making a political statement,” adding, “Human rights are non-negotiable. Denying us an armband is the same as denying us a vote. We stand by our position.”
On the eve of the World Cup, Fifa President Gianni Infantino accused the western world of “hypocrisy” and a “one-sided moral doctrine” in his reporting of Qatar’s human rights record, which says same-sex relationships and the promotion of same-sex relationships are criminalized.
This is more than just a football tournament controversy.
For many Arabs, this hits a sore point. Many here in Qatar are wondering why there wasn’t a similar uproar when Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup or China hosted the 2008 Olympics; both countries with their own human rights issues.
When Qatar won the bid to host the tournament, it was counted as an Arab victory. After all, one of the biggest sporting events in the world came to a region best known for its conflicts.
“It’s not just for Qatar,” a Qatari fan told me as we watched the opening ceremony together. “It is for all Arabs and Muslims.”
Any criticism of the organizers seems to be taken as an assessment of the region as a whole and its suitability as a legitimate host on the world stage – especially when it comes to prestigious events like the World Cup.
But it also seems that Qatar has been surprised at how closely it is being scrutinized – after inviting the whole world into its own backyard.
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